Aug 3, 2022 - Economy

The future of America's EV charging network takes shape

Illustration of an EV charger cord forming the outline of the continental US.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The federal government is doling out $5 billion to states to build a nationwide network of highway charging stations intended to get more people to buy electric vehicles.

Why it matters: The taxpayer-funded charging network is a cornerstone of President Biden's ambition to electrify America's transportation sector.

  • He wants half of all new cars sold to be electric by 2030 — but many car buyers won't consider an EV without assurances that they'll be able to charge quickly, especially on long road trips.
  • The plan, which calls for installing up to 500,000 direct-current “fast chargers” along the nation's most heavily traveled highways, could boost drivers’ confidence, EV advocates and policymakers say.
  • That’s up from roughly 20,000 DC fast chargers today, which are sometimes off the beaten path.
  • As with most sweeping federal policies, however, state officials say the devil is in the details.

Driving the news: As of this week, all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have submitted plans for their share of the EV charger money, which comes by way of last year's bipartisan infrastructure bill.

  • That bill included $5 billion over the next five years for highway chargers, plus $2.5 billion in grants for other community charging sites.

What they're saying: "We appreciate the thought and time that states have put into these EV infrastructure plans, which will help create a national charging network where finding a charge is as easy as locating a gas station," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Tuesday.

Details: A lot of the nitty-gritty will be determined after regulators review public comments on proposed requirements for projects funded under the bill.

  • The government wants to set minimum standards to ensure the national network is user-friendly, reliable and accessible.
  • And it wants to make sure the chargers are interoperable — meaning that they'll have similar pricing and payment systems and they'll be able to recharge vehicles from any manufacturer.
  • Tesla, for example, is expected to eventually make its proprietary supercharger network accessible to non-Tesla vehicles.

Zoom in: The government has already established some guidelines that provide hints about what a national EV charging network might look like.

  • Under the guidelines, charging stations should be installed along major highways that the Federal Highway Administration has designated as "Alternative Fuel Corridors."
  • They should be located no more than 50 miles apart, and within one mile from interstate exits.
  • And they should feature DC fast chargers, providing a minimum of 150 kWh of power at a time. (Such equipment could recharge a vehicle in 20-30 minutes, versus the eight-plus hours of a typical public Level 2 charger.)

Yes, but: Some officials — particularly those in less-populated Western states — complain those federal guidelines aren’t flexible enough.

  • Wyoming, for example, would rather install chargers on roads leading to tourist attractions like state and national parks rather than barren stretches of interstate highways.

What's next: Many issues still need to be resolved, including standardizing electric utility rates and clearing away permitting obstacles for charging stations.

  • "The benefit, now that we are deploying this nationwide system, is that we have an opportunity to tackle the more thorny issues that have plagued the EV community for a while," said Christopher Bast, director of EV infrastructure investments at the Electrification Coalition, an electric vehicle advocacy group. "$7.5 billion has a way of opening up a policy window."
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